Methadone is typically used in the treatment of heroin addiction. It is a synthetic opioid medication, and it was created as a painkiller. However, its use as a substitute for heroin made it popular in treating those who wanted to come off the drug without experiencing the unpleasant heroin withdrawal symptoms. The effects of methadone are longer lasting but less intense than heroin, and the idea is that those who are being treated for a heroin addiction can stop taking this substance while having their methadone dose gradually reduced until they can come off it altogether. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.
George Allan never had a heroin addiction, but he has been hooked on methadone for the last twenty-one years after doctors prescribed it to treat his diazepam addiction when he was twenty-two years old. George is now worried that he will never be able to kick his addiction to methadone, and his case was highlighted by a drug expert, who has said the Scottish Government are setting up users to develop lifetime addictions to methadone.
George is among a number of people who sought treatment for a relatively short addiction to another substance before being placed on methadone. Many of these individuals have now been taking methadone for almost their entire adult lives. They have literally been ‘parked’ on the drug. A large number have never been able to work because of their methadone addictions. Reports have also surfaced of a number of older methadone users dying because of mixing the drug with other pills, including fake diazepam tablets.
The Scottish Government’s Road to Recovery Programme has now been branded a complete failure by Professor Neil McKeganey. As well as leaving individuals hooked on drugs for decades, this programme has cost the taxpayer £630 million; Professor McKeganey feels a new approach is needed.
He believes the time has come to work towards getting people off drugs for good, and he says that health boards that fail to do so should be fined. After a campaign by the Daily Record three years ago, health boards promised to give methadone users six-monthly reviews, but Professor McKeganey believes this is not happening.
He said, “I would advocate a system that places direct responsibility and accountability on failing local authorities. If there is evidence of mismanagement or signs that patients’ treatment programmes are not being regularly reviewed, I would like to see some financial penalties brought in. Where there is evidence that health boards are repeatedly performing in a sub-standard way, I would support a third party body being brought in to take over the management, as with failing schools.”
Professor McKeganey believes that many health boards are more interested in their funding than actually working towards getting those with illnesses such as methadone or heroin addiction off drugs completely. He went on to say, “What we have in Scotland is an addiction industry that is very well funded, with masses of public money, where organisations have more of an interest in continuing that funding than in showing success in tackling the problem and getting people off drugs. There are a few relatively small organisations who handle a lot of money that have nothing but failure to report back with.”
He said the SNP’s Road to Recovery Programme ‘has been a disaster’.
Professor McKeganey is not the only one to feel the Scottish Government’s war on drugs is not working. Monica Lennon, who is the Labour inequalities spokesperson, said, “Drug misuse is a complex issue, and effective engagement and treatment is vital if we are to protect people against overdose. That’s why it’s troubling that the SNP Government will cut funding to alcohol and drug partnerships by £15.4 million in 2016-17.”
Donald Cameron, Scottish Conservative health spokesperson, also agreed that more needs to be done to tackle issues such as heroin addiction. He stated, “For all the SNP’s talk about tackling Scotland’s drug problem, they are no closer to getting to grips with this epidemic. A 66 per cent increase in drug deaths is a damning indictment of the SNP’s nine years in power. It’s bad enough that more and more people are being parked on methadone. But we’re also witnessing a staggering rise in methadone-related deaths since the SNP came to power.”
He also said that policies where drug addicts are prescribed other drugs must be reviewed, believing that abstinence-based treatments are more likely to help the addicts kick the habit for good.
Nevertheless, Scottish Health Minister Aileen Campbell defended the performance of the SNP’s programme. She said, “Health boards, through alcohol and drug partnerships, provide effective and tailored treatment to support people who have decided to tackle their addiction, and we have supported that work with £630 million to deal with alcohol and drug abuse since 2008.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said that for the treatment of illnesses such as painkiller and heroin addiction, opioid replacement therapy is ‘a crucial tool’.
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